Honing New Skills: A Student’s Perspective

By: Evan Claggett, Spring Semester Student 2017

I have always considered myself a very outdoorsy person.  Whether it was camping, hiking, biking, or kayaking, from a young age, I was always outdoors.

As I progressed in my major of marine science at Coastal Carolina University, I started to recognize how essential computer programs are for marine scientists. Microsoft Excel was one application that truly showed me just how many computers skills I lacked. I was amazed to discover how easily this program could sort and average huge data sets for me, a huge asset for analyzing biological field research.

Fortunately, my outdoorsy personality has remained and has led me here to CIEE to study tropical marine ecology along some of the best reefs in the Caribbean. Upon arrival I had expected challenging academic coursework on topics like reef fish identification, seagrass ecology and bioluminescence. However, our course in designing and implementing an Independent Research project was completely new for me. I knew I wanted to conduct a study on coral bleaching, but exactly what that research would look like and how to go about analyzing my data was a learning process.

When my advisor Dr. Elmer told me I’d be using Photoshop and Image J software, my immediate thoughts were, “gosh, I literally have never even clicked on the Photoshop icon and what on earth is Image J”.

I now know how to use Photoshop to edit out the background of my coral photos and I can employ Image J to calculate the area of bleaching on each colony. Although I have many more hours to spend at the computer, utilizing Photoshop and Image J has been going relatively well. I have experienced some obstacles but it’s enjoyable to be able to learn a new skill. After all, I did come to CIEE to improve my skills in marine science, which I guess includes using computer software.

My hope is to be able to apply the new skills I’ve learned both in the field and on the computer towards conservation based science back home on the Chesapeake Bay.

From a student’s perspective, honing new computer skills can be daunting but it is necessary to succeed in today’s science world.  I am very blessed and excited to have the opportunity to do just that.

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